This month we’re taking an in-depth look at the various areas of special focus that the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report has highlighted. Today, we’re zooming in on how governments can act as traffickers. Several states have been called out for demonstrating a pattern of using their power to compel their own citizens into sex trafficking or forced labor. State engagement in trafficking more directly links a country to a Tier 3 ranking. Governments that were identified include: Afghanistan, Burma, China (as we covered last week), Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan.
To be identified as such, governments would be seen as engaging in “human trafficking, human trafficking in government-funded programs, forced labor in government-affiliated medical services or other sectors, sexual slavery in government camps, or the employment or recruitment of child soldiers.” The use of child soldiers appears among several of these states. The report goes on to say that these governments “coerce by threatening the withdrawal of public benefits, withholding salaries, failing to adhere to limits on national service, manipulating the lack of legal status of stateless individuals and other minority groups, threatening to punish family members, or conditioning services, food, or freedom of movement on labor or sex.”
Here are some examples of what the report claims about these governments:
*Note: We won’t cover every one – for a full look, please refer to the TIP Report.
- In Afghanistan: there is a pattern of the Taliban’s employment and recruitment of child soldiers, and a “pattern of sexual slavery in government compounds,” or Bacha bazi, when men exploit boys for social and sexual entertainment.
- In Burma: the military has a pattern of using children and adults for forced labor.
- In Cuba: there was a government policy or pattern to profit from programs, especially the foreign medical missions program, that showed indications of the use of forced labor. According to the TIP Report, the government deployed Cuban workers to foreign countries “using deceptive and coercive tactics.” Furthermore, the government did not inform participants of the terms of their contracts; it “confiscated their passports, professional credentials, and salaries; and threatened medical professionals and their family members if participants left the program.”
- In Iran: the report claims that the government has a pattern of employing or recruiting child soldiers, as well as deceiving or coercing adults to fight in Iranian militias in Syria. It also claims that officials have engaged in trafficking crimes with impunity, including the sex trafficking of both adults and children.
- In North Korea: the government engages in systematic political repression, including human trafficking in prison camps. Adults and children are subject to forced labor, logging, mining, manufacturing, or farming for long hours under harsh conditions. It also imposes forced labor conditions on DPRK overseas workers and uses profits from state-sponsored forced labor to fund government functions. Moreover, the report states: “The government sent North Koreans, including potential trafficking victims, forcibly returned by People’s Republic of China (PRC) authorities to detention and interrogation centers, where the government subjected them to forced labor, torture, forced abortions, and sexual abuse by prison guards; in some cases, authorities allegedly sent them on to prison camps. DPRK defectors previously reported instances of the government executing trafficking victims forcibly returned from the PRC.” There are an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people in political prison camps. Schools are even complicit in government schemes, subjecting children to labor to receive compensation from the government, raise funds for faculty salaries, or cover the maintenance costs of school facilities.
- And in Russia: the report claims the military uses children, especially Ukrainian children, to perform armed duty at checkpoints, as fighters, guards, mailpersons, and secretaries, and possibly even as informants and human shields. It says: “Widespread reports indicate thousands of Ukrainians have been forcibly transported to some of Russia’s most remote regions and Russian authorities have reportedly forcibly separated some Ukrainian children from their parents and given the children to Russian families. Ukrainians forcibly displaced to Russia are highly vulnerable to trafficking. Russia-led forces reportedly recruit Syrian children to guard installations and fight in Libya.“
It is chilling when the state itself is a trafficker–for what hope does a trafficking victim have for escape, safety, or justice? We can be grateful for the governments of the world that demonstrate a commitment to protecting victims and survivors of trafficking, and that engage in diligent efforts to pursue justice against traffickers. Their efforts are that much more remarkable when we consider how many places and for how many people that isn’t the case.